Not much drama at the PGA Tour’s signature event last week (as in put on by
the Tour itself unlike, say, any of the four majors), the Players
Championship, as Webb Simpson basically had the tournament won when he left
the course Saturday night. There was little stress Sunday as he shot a
ho-hum 73, including a double-bogey on his 72nd hole, and still
won by four over Xander Schauffele, Charl Schwartzel and Jimmy Walker.
Simpson finished at 18-under 270 and set the TPC Sawgrass Stadium Course
record with his second-round 63 (Brooks Koepka matched that Sunday), and
also the 36- and 54-hole tournament scoring records at 15-under 129 and
19-under 197, respectively. He hadn’t won since the PGA Tour banned belly
(anchored) putting, which is the style Simpson used. His last victory was
the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open in Las Vegas in October 2013. As
an added bonus, Simpson was just the ninth player to have won the Players
and U.S. Open, which makes him World Golf Hall of Fame eligible in the
future (he’s not a Hall of Famer right now). Also pretty cool: He won his
U.S. Open on Father’s Day in 2012 and now the Players the last time it will
be played on Mother’s Day with a move to March.
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The other big news was Tiger Woods making the cut on the number following
rounds of 72-71 but then shooting 65-69 on the weekend to finish T11. I’m
starting to think he will win a tournament this year, albeit not likely a
major. In addition, Justin Thomas took over the world No. 1 ranking for the
first time in his career, dethroning Dustin Johnson. Thomas, 25, became the
fourth-youngest player to hold the top spot in the Official World Golf
Ranking (behind Tiger, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy) and the 21st overall
since the ranking began in 1986. DJ’s run of 64 straight weeks atop the
rankings was fifth-longest ever.
My winning pick last week was the trio of Rickie Fowler, Jon Rahm and
Patrick Reed at +700 vs. the field. Fowler surprisingly missed the cut (as
did McIlroy), Rahm was T63 and Reed T41. I did get Tommy Fleetwood at +500
as top Englishman with his T7.
This week, the Tour heads back to Texas for its two-week Dallas/Fort Worth
Swing with the AT&T Byron Nelson at the new Trinity Forest Golf Club, a
par 71 measuring 7,380 yards. So, basically, there’s not much to go off
handicapping this tournament with no “Horse for the Course” numbers. The
Nelson also has struggled to draw much of a field, especially since its
namesake died in 2016 because of its spot after the Players Championship.
You will want to keep an eye on any players ranked around 61-70 in the
world. Why? The top 60 in the world rankings after this tournament receive
automatic berths into next month’s U.S. Open if not already qualified. If
you are wondering, No. 60 right now is Thomas Pieters, with No. 61
Jhonattan Vegas. No. 62 is Chesson Hadley and he withdrew feeling under the
weather despite a strong T11 last week.
The defending champion if Billy Horschel, who entered last year’s event in
a terrible career slump and having missed four cuts in a row. He and Jason
Day finished at 12 under at the TPC Four Seasons, and Horschel won on the
first playoff hole when Day gagged four-foot par putt on the first extra
hole. That really turned Horschel’s career around and was his first win
since the 2014 Tour Championship, which got him the FedEx Cup title.
Horschel has won since: the team event in New Orleans a couple of weeks
Golf Odds: AT&T Byron Nelson Favorites
, Spieth is a heavy +500 favorite, which makes sense in the regard that
he’s the highest-ranked player in the field easily but doesn’t make sense
considering he has never finished better than T16 at this tournament –
which came back when he was a 16-year-old prodigy. Spieth is from Dallas
and clearly will be the fan favorite. He finished T41 last week. His golf
instructor, Cameron McCormick, is based out of Trinity Forest so I’m sure
he’s played it plenty even though it’s new.
Matt Kuchar is +1200 and Sergio Garcia +1400. Sergio has won this event
twice, in 2004 & 2016. Again, though, different course. Only Tom Watson
(four) and Sam Snead (three) have won the Nelson three times. Sergio is
having a really disappointing season, which continued with a T70 last week.
Kuchar was 17th last week.
Hideki Matsuyama is +1800 and Horschel is +2000 to repeat, which no one has
done since Watson won three straight. Matsuyama also is having a down year,
but he been dealing with a wrist injury that sidelined him for a spell.
Golf Odds: AT&T Byron Nelson Picks
For a Top 10 finish, I actually don’t like Spieth (-225) both because of
that price and he sometimes presses too hard to win in Texas. I do like
Walker (+160), Horschel (+200) and undervalued Ryan Palmer (+500), who is
from the area.
For top Aussie, go Marc Leishman at +220. Top European, Martin Laird at
+500. Head-to-head, I’ll take Kuchar (+115) over Spieth (-150), Walker
(-110) over Sergio (-120), and Horschel (-110) over Matsuyama (-120).
Walker is our winner at +2200. He generally plays well in his home state as
noted by a runner-up at this tournament previously and a fourth a few weeks
ago in San Antonio – and he played well last week.
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